Visiting NC outdoors in a wheelchair

Jan. 03, 2013 @ 03:31 PM

Part III in a series

According to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, the Piedmont encompasses a large rectangle with Stokes County in NW corner, Mecklenburg County in the SW corner, Warren County in the NE corner and Richmond County in the SE corner.  Within this boundary we find the largest percentage of our population per square mile which would logically equate to the largest number of those with mobility impairments. 

Based upon the departments recently released sixth edition of the Access North Carolina Guide for those with disabilities and other sources like the NCWRC, there is a vast amount of opportunities for the mobility impaired to enjoy the great outdoors.  One of the best starting points within this large and diverse area is with the many State Parks.  Many, like Morrow Mountain Park located only six miles east of Albemarle along the shores of the Pee Dee River, offer many ways to enjoy nature’s bounty.  Handicapped visitors will find numerous accessible restrooms, picnic shelters, a camp site, fishing pier and even an accessible pool and cottage that is rentable.

East of Morrow Mountain is the 14,000 acre Jordan Lake and many more surrounding thousands of acres that make up the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area and State Game Lands.  Within the State Parks section are accessible group tent and RV camping areas with accessible restrooms near wash houses.  Many game lands parking areas have access to woods roads.  In addition the WRC provides a large accessible fishing pier at Bells Church near Wilsonville.

Moving to the NW section of the Piedmont we will find the 7,000 acres of the Hanging Rock State Park.  The guide calls it a land of “sheer cliffs, peaks of bare rock and quite forests”.  Visitors will find an accessible path that leads to a fishing lake from the parking lot as well as an accessible path to the “Rock Garden”.  The park has one accessible picnic shelter, campsite, shower house and two accessible vacation cabins.  In the NE corner of the Piedmont is the Kerr Lake State Recreation Area.  Again, the area is broken into seven areas spread out of the 40,000 acres of the Army Corp’s Kerr Reservoir and provides a variety of accessible opportunities for outdoor recreation including a special all-terrain wheelchair that will take visitors to the swimming area.

Located next door to the state’s capital is the 5,500 acre William B. Umstead State Park.  While the park offers a wide variety of outdoor opportunities including three different lakes, handicapped accessibilities may be limited.  First time mobility impaired visitors should contact the park at 919-571-4170 prior to their visit.  Visitors in the Southern Pines area of the Piedmont will find the 900 acres of the Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve.  The area hosts examples of the longleaf pine forests that once dominated the southeast in addition to viewing the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.  Mobility impaired visitors have accessible to them a nearly 1,000 foot path that allows them to view many of the native plants and animals of the area.

Next door to Durham is the several thousand acres that make up the Falls Lake State Recreation Area.  According to the guide, visitors with mobility disabilities will find access to a wide range of recreational opportunities at Falls Lake, and park staff can guide visitors

to facilities best suited to their needs. An accessible fishing pier is located at Beaverdam and Rollingview.  Accessible picnic shelters are available at Beaverdam, Rolling View and Sandling Beach.  Accessible swimming is available at Beaverdam, Rolling View and Sandling Beach. Accessible campsites are available at Holly Point, Rolling View and Shinleaf. 

The Piedmont section of the state is also home to one of three Tier III permit hunt locations for handicapped sportsmen.  Located on the Caswell Game Lands in the county of Caswell, these prime game lands offer mobility impaired deer hunters special ground blinds as well as a lottery type drawing system that makes access to the facilities equal and fair.  With a little effort and or assistance, the Perkins Game Lands in Davie County can provide a wheelchair hunter access to some good Piedmont deer and small game hunting including access to several prepared dove fields.  At over 62,000 acres, the Sandhills Game Lands in the SE corner of the Piedmont is the largest outdoor tract of property available for public use.  As a result, it offers the mobility impaired many opportunities for hunting and getting outdoors.  The WRC has a variety of special Permit Hunt opportunities available for the handicapped on this tract as well.  As with all game lands hunting, hunters should check for specific rules that may apply to a particular tract of game lands and to a specific county.

In addition to State Parks and State Game Lands, the National Wildlife Refuge system has the Pee Dee Wildlife Refuge located near Wadesboro in Anson and Richmond Counties.  Working within the states established seasons, the federally managed area provides both hunting and fishing opportunities for the mobility impaired.  Those interested should contact the refuge directly at 704-694-4424.        

Like the Matthews Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resource Department, the Wildlife Resources Commission often enters into partnerships to construct new handicapped-accessible fishing piers.  A year ago this resulted in the construction of a floating, T-shaped pier at Squirrel Lake Park.  The pier is 43 feet long with a 48-foot wide T-section at the end and incorporates low, angled handrail sections that allow easy access for children and anglers confined to wheelchairs.  To enhance fishing opportunities, Commission staff installed a fish feeder within casting distance of the new pier.  The lake is stocked with 400 catchable-sized channel catfish in April, June and September of each year, to supplement the existing bass and sunfish fisheries.  Others include; Cane Creek Park in Union County.

• Tony Robinson can be reached at decoydoc@charter.net